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One Team, Three Stats: Bulls continue to deal with shooting issues

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Chicago Bulls have had a weird season.

They’ve had some success against good teams. In fact, the Bulls are the only team in the league with wins over the top three teams in the East. They’re 4-1 against Cleveland (2-0), Toronto (1-0) and Boston (1-1). But the Bulls sit in ninth place in the conference, because they have consistency issues.

And the roller coaster has come with some drama. Starting point guard Rajon Rondo was taken out of the rotation for five straight games before returning on Saturday when Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade were both out.

The Basics – Chicago Bulls (19-20)

Pace: 96.9 (23rd)

OffRtg: 104.1 (20th)

DefRtg: 104.6 (12th)

NetRtg: -0.5 (16th)

Bulls links: Team stats | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups

As they try to climb back into playoff position, the Bulls face another team with point guard drama on Thursday. The first game of TNT’s doubleheader is Chicago at New York (8 ET), a chance for Rondo and Derrick Rose to compare notes on life with a new team.

Here are a few numbers to know about the Bulls…

No. 1

The Bulls have been the worst shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 47.1 percent.

Shooting is the most important thing in basketball, and the Bulls can’t shoot.

One week into the season, they led the league in 3-point percentage. Eleven weeks in, the Bulls rank last in both 3-point percentage and in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range.

Jimmy Butler (34.1 percent), Rajon Rondo (30.9 percent) and Dwyane Wade (33.7 percent) weren’t going to magically turn into good 3-point shooters over night. But Isaiah Canaan (26.5 percent), Doug McDermott (34.5 percent) and Nikola Mirotic (31.2 percent) were supposed to stay good 3-point shooters, and they’ve all been below the league average (35.8 percent) from beyond the arc.

The only Bulls who have shot better than the league average from 3-point range are Bobby Portis, who is 10-for-21, and Taj Gibson, who is 1-for-2. Michael Carter-Williams, the new starting point guard, has shot 4-for-23 (17 percent).

The Bulls’ league-worst effective field goal percentage isn’t just about their 3-point shooting. They also rank 29th in 2-point percentage, with the second worst field goal percentage in the restricted area and the fourth worst field goal percentage from mid-range. Of the eight Bulls who have taken at least 50 shots in the restricted area, only two – Gibson and Mirotic – have shot better than the league average (60.4 percent) from there. Rondo (43.9 percent) ranks 233rd in restricted area field goal percentage among 234 players with at least 50 attempts and Robin Lopez (51.9 percent) ranks last among 37 centers with at least 100.

Amazingly, the Bulls are a better offensive team than they were last season (when they ranked 25th in OffRtg), because of more offensive rebounds and more trips to the free-throw line. But their shooting has actually gotten worse as the season has gone on, from an effective field goal percentage of 48.9 percent in their first 10 games, to 46.7 percent in Games 11-20, to 46.5 percent in Games 21-30, and 46.2 percent in Games 31-39.

No. 2

Jimmy Butler has taken 56.1 free throws per 100 shots from the field.

That’s the fourth highest rate (highest among non-centers) who have taken at least 200 shots from the field.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook have taken more total free throws than Butler, but they’ve both had the ball in their hands a lot more. Butler has shot better than both at the line.

Butler has seen his scoring average jump from 20.9 to 25.0 points per game this season. An increase in usage rate and more shots from the field have been a factor. But his effective field goal percentage is the same as it was last season – 48.5 percent, below the league average (50.9 percent).

Where Butler has seen real improvement is in his ability to get to the line and in his ability to convert his opportunities there. He’s getting 10 more free throws per 100 shots from the field than he did last season (46) and his free throw percentage has jumped from 83 percent to 88 percent, fifth best among the 23 players who have attempted at least 200 shots from the line.

When you’re the league’s worst shooting team, there are ways to avoid being the league’s worst offensive team. Only two teams – Brooklyn and Cleveland – have improved their free throw rate more than the Bulls, and Butler has been the biggest factor in that improvement.

No. 3

The Bulls’ original starting lineup remains a plus-15 for the season.

At this point, the thinking is that the Bulls’ starting lineup – Rondo, Wade, Butler, Gibson and Lopez – didn’t work. But it did, for the first month and a half of the season.

Through Dec. 10, the Bulls’ starting lineup outscored its opponents by 9.0 points per 100 possessions, the fifth best mark among lineups that had played at least 200 minutes together at that point. But things went downhill from there. In nine games together from Dec. 15-30, the lineup was outscored by 40 points (20 points per 100 possessions) in 113 minutes.

After it registered a minus-17 in 13 minutes in San Antonio on Christmas and a minus-9 in 12 minutes against Brooklyn on Dec. 28, Fred Hoiberg pulled the plug on the starting lineup less than three minutes into its game in Indiana on Dec. 30, with his team already down 13-4. He went with Carter-Williams instead of Rondo at the beginning of the third quarter that night and the original starting lineup hasn’t played together since.

There was regression on offense, where the three guards’ inability to shoot obviously took its toll. After scoring 109.0 points per 100 possessions through its first 18 games together, the starting lineup scored just 99.5 over those last nine. But the bigger drop-off was on defense, where the lineup allowed 119.4 points per 100 possessions from Dec. 15-30 after allowing less than a point per possession prior.

A good team should certainly expect more than a plus-15 over 390 minutes from its starting lineup, but when you look at the overall picture, that lineup wasn’t all that destructive. The Bulls have been much worse in the second quarter (minus-2.4 points per 100 possessions) and fourth quarter (minus-5.9) than in the first (plus-3.2) and third (plus-2.4).

The Bulls’ new starting lineup is a minus-5 in 57 minutes so far, though all five teams that it’s faced – Indiana, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto and Oklahoma City – have winning records.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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